Jennifer Ferguson was explaining how Native Americans suffered “our own holocaust” in the United Sates between the early 1900’s and l960, when a man in the audience jumped up and ran up to her.
“Liar,” he yelled, sticking his fingers into the middle of her chest. Dumbfounded, she turned her back to compose herself before continuing and heard several men in the audience shout, “Shut up!” “She’s not lying!”
“By the time I began again, the outraged Catholic man had been removed by police. After I finished my talk, I went into a room and was soon joined by many others who found me crying. Soon everyone in the room was crying with me.”
Jennifer is an artist who has a museum and archeological background. She’s the woman behind the fresh and creative displays at the Colville Tribal Museum and Gift shop at Coulee City, WA.. The building sits in the shadow of the Grand Coulee Dam and is a noteworthy place to see. The new Fort Colville museum in Colville recently credits and thanks her for help at their site.
The U.S., in an effort to assimilate tribal members into the ‘white’ world, Jennifer told us that young children were forced to go to federal or religious boarding schools, both protestant and catholic for training.
We know this to be true. Years ago we learned from a Blackfoot artist the story of the horrors he suffered during such schooling. He said that they cut his long hair, that he had to be in school with children of unfriendly tribes, made to conform by such austere means as having to clean the institute steps with a toothbrush.
Jennifer grew up in a big ranching family. “I didn’t have steak until I was eighteen. My Did said cows were not to be eaten but sold so he hunted and fished to provide food for our large family.”
She learned tribal culture and history after her little seven-year-old entered a Miss Colville pageant and won. As the winner, she was to do the honor dance with me. “I didn’t know how but we did the best we could. After that, I began to ask and to study the culture of my ancestors. And, this is something I always encourage school children to do.”
Indeed, we are fortunate to meet and learn from Native Americans like Jennifer during my husband’s visits to tribal headquarters and other places as he shares his stories from his historical fiction, Courage Beyond Expectations.